Jerry Green on his own Senior Night. Sounds like the script for a horror flick where the UCSB men’s basketball team plays the part of the sacrificial lamb again.
Irvine’s superstar guard torched the Gauchos for 29 points including a game-winning 10-foot leaner with 39 seconds remaining for a 68-67 lead. Green punched home three of four free throws in the waning moments to help the Anteaters gut out a 71-67 win Saturday night at the Bren Center.
Santa Barbara junior forward Mark Hull’s three-point bucket zipped UCSB up 67-66 with 48 seconds to go. Santa Barbara enjoyed its only lead of the second half for about as long as it takes to say, “Jerry Green: Big West Player of the Year.”
Hull and the Gauchos’ hopes of dashing Green’s glistening night disappeared with his clutch basket, and a little help from the officiating crew.
UCSB called a timeout after Green’s shot only to see sophomore guard Branduinn Fullove throw up a wild three-pointer. Fullove fouled Green trying to pry a rebound on the errant shot.
Green rolled in both free throws with 16 seconds and Hull was called for a charge on the other end of the floor. Referee Chris Shevlin called Hull for a charge against forward J.R. Christ when Hull attempted to free himself for a possible shot to tie the game. The ball barely reached his hands when Shevlin blew his whistle. Green sunk one more free throw to finish the scoring and the Gauchos.
“It was definitely a heartbreaker, but we fought back hard,” senior center Mike Vukovich said. “Jerry’s a real good player and we couldn’t get the ball out of his hands. He made a pretty tough shot.”
Though UCSB nearly overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half with a 21-9 run, the Anteaters continually blitzed the Gauchos with momentum-changing spurts of points. Irvine scored the last nine points of the first half while Santa Barbara blew a 33-28 lead.
Being down at the half 37-33 was particularly disconcerting for UCSB, considering the team connected on 48 percent of its shots in the opening frame while limiting UCI to 41.9 percent.
Fullove played well for the third consecutive game, racking up 19 points. Senior center Adama Ndiaye, who came off the pine for the first time this season after grabbing one rebound in 25 minutes against Long Beach State on Thursday, responded nicely with 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
With junior forward Bray Skultety starting his first game, UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams started a munchkin lineup with Hull the tallest starter at 6’7.” Rebounding at the end of the night was not a problem for Santa Barbara. Each team grabbed 33 boards.
UCSB has lost to Irvine five straight times and is now 0-7 on the year and have given up at least 70 points to their opponents.
“If we can play defense and hold teams under 70, we can really win,” sophomore guard Nick Jones said. “Defense is our thing to take towards the Big West Tournament.”
The loss dropped Santa Barbara (15-10, 9-7 in the Big West) into a third-place tie with the University of the Pacific and Cal State Northridge. The Gauchos swept Northridge but settled for a split against the Tigers. That means if UCSB ends the regular season tied with UOP for third, the Tigers will clinch third because they defeated a higher-ranked team – Irvine, currently second in the conference – earlier in the season.
Irvine reached the all-important 20-win mark, improving to 20-8 and 13-4 in the Big West with the victory Saturday. The Anteaters are a half-game behind Utah State (21-4, 13-3) after USU defeated Idaho 65-56 Saturday to keep a small step ahead of UCI. Regardless of the season’s outcome, both the Aggies and the Anteaters secured the top two slots in the conference tournament with their wins March 6-9.
The Gauchos will not take any pleasure in knowing that they lost all four games to USU and UCI this season, a foreboding statistic that may haunt UCSB going into the Big West Tourney. Of the top six teams in the conference, Santa Barbara is the only squad not to notch a win against either of the top two squads.
But playing Irvine to the wire in a hostile environment was no small feat.
“Just to come back in that atmosphere was great. They’re good, but they’re not unbeatable,” Jones said. “Green had a big time night but we were right there. … We showed a lot of fight.”